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PCIe x1 gets a reason to live

First INQpression Compro VideoMate E700 TV card
Tue Aug 14 2007, 12:07

Product: Compro VideoMate E700
Website: Compro USA
System Requirements:PCIe slot x1 and above
Price: approx. £60 inc VAT

LIKE IT OR HATE IT, PCIe x1 has slowly pushed old PCI from the motherboards of today, but add-in cards for this new standard have been as rare as hen's teeth.

In order to fill out the PCIe x1 slots on the motherboards out there, Compro Technologies came out with VideoMate E700, a dual-TV tuner card. Compro has a rather interesting history, since the company's foray onto the big screen happened at the turn of the century, with Nvidia's Personal Cinema. This GeForce2 MX powered board boasted many advanced multimedia capabilities, but sadly, Nvidia walked away from the concept, concluding the product could not compete against the All-in-Wonder series by ATI. With AMD killing the AiW series, we have to wait and see who will be next in the multimedia-meets-GPU arena. For now, Compro is focusing on advanced TV tuners.

The Card itself
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Card itself is half-size, very low footprint

The card comes with full-size and half-size brackets, and will just about fit in any HTPC case. Two independent DVB-T tuners are Philips chips, while Micronas APB 7202A nGene chip acts as dual-channel audio/video multimedia controller.

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Connect motherboard and power connectors with E700 and your remote has Power switch

Besides the regular antenna, input, the only other connector on the backplate is a connector for the IR remote. On the board itself, there are two 2-pin connectors, and this is a very important feature. By connecting the motherboard's power pins with the board and connecting the case Power on switch onto the VideoMate E700, IR remote becomes a controlling device for your PC - it will turn the computer off and on. This goes hand in hand with PVR software that is delivered with the card, that can automatically turn on the computer, record a show at a time decided by you (or just marked on the EPG) and shut the computer down. This feature works with all S3/S4/S5 compliant motherboards.

This board just goes to show that the PCIe x1 standard was rather fragile looking, but we experienced no flexing of the card while being placed in a PCIe slot.

The remote is surprisingly good, and controls a bit more than just bundled software. We controlled playback of video files through PowerDVD Ultra and Media Centre Classic as well, and had no problems in shutting down and turning the computer on with a single press of "power" button. Works as a remote for Windows MCE/MCE2005 as well.

Software capabilities
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The UI has that Windows XP feel, which does not feel as good in Vista

When it comes to software itself, E700 ships with ComproDTV 3, third-gen software coming from this Taiwanese manufacturer. Compro did not opt to license software from a third party, but rather developed its own. On the one hand, this is a positive move, but we have noticed a lack of polishing the final product.

The UI looks quite simple and intuitive, so you will not have any problems adjusting. E700 supports two main channels (POP), two additional sub-channel windows (POP) and one simultaneous recorded video file (of one of the four channels being shown). In addition, video desktop can set live TV stream as your background, which is particularly nice when you have an HD stream at the background on a 24-inch monitor. Sadly, our 2407WFP-HC (review pending) was not available in time for testing of this board, but we will include our TV experience in 2407WFP-HC review.

When it comes to sensitivity of DTV3, software correctly detected all of the SD and HD channels available through my classical fixed antenna, something that we haven't experienced with certain several other TV tuners that claimed HD capability.

The app allowed us to change brightness, hue, saturation, contrast, and sharpness in each of simultaneously streamed TV channels, and same thing applied for audio streams. If you want, you can do a direct burn on CD or DVD disc using Straight-to-Disc function, and of course, we had no problems in capturing the HD stream as well.

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"Ears" remind us that software might be in a need for that magical Photoshop touch...

When it comes to the bad side of the story, we mentioned that the UI might need a bit of a polishing. If you take a good look at the corners of the main window, you will notice that there are several grey pixels, forming a sharp edge on two upper corners. We feel that Compro should sort this one out, and perhaps offer a skinning function in order to fit the ComproDTV UI better with different interfaces in Windows XP, Media Centre Edition and Charlie's MeII, or simply - Windows Vista.

In short
This card proved trouble free during testing and afterwards. The straight-to-DVD function works well, same thing applies to comfort levels achieved by excellent remote. Compro's engineering team did a very good job with this easy-to-use TV card and, if you are willing to shell out 60 quid for a TV tuner, the E700 will do a very good job for you.

The Good
The power on/off feature is so handy, we forgot how to turn the computer on and off by conventional means. Special bonus is liberation of one PCI slot, caught in a fight between physics, sound, and network cards.

The Bad
UI could do a bit of polishing, we are waiting on Linux support

And the Ugly
Does not support MHEG-5 teletext format in Blighty, we would welcome RF remote feature.

Bartender's Report
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Tested and Reviewed by Davor Baksa and Theo Valich

 

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